Premium teacher supplementary guidance – Classical Civilizations

The great classical civilizations of the Eastern Hemisphere, 500 BC to AD 500

This Premium guide suggests points students should be covering in their responses to questions.

1.& 2. Enquiry and Presentations

The headings and key points might look something like the list below, region by region. If the students produce something different, however, no problem – so long as they can justify what they leave out and what they include.

Students should be prepared to talk around the key points – causes, consequences, context and so on. The words and phrases in brackets are some ideas that might be linked with these. 

Europe:

Iron Age 

More productive farming (especially outside river valleys)

Population growth

Wealthier societies

Phoenicians

Trade networks around Mediterranean

Spread of writing based on alphabet

Greek civilization 

Rise of city states

Political and cultural innovations which this enabled (which laid many of the foundations for later Western civilization thought, art and literature)

Alexander the Great (whose conquests spread Greek – or “Hellenistic” – civilization far to the East)

Roman Empire 

Conquests (leading to spread of urban civilization to far wider area than before, especially in western Europe);

Centuries of peace (and prosperity to millions of people)

Decline and fall of western part of empire (and succession by Germanic kingdoms, which preserved elements of Graeco-Roman culture)

Eastern RomanEmpire (and survival of Graeco-Roman civilization in the eastern Mediterranean)

Christianity 

The foundational religion of Western civilization.

Middle East:

Empires: 

Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, Persian

Spread of Aramaic language and alphabet

Trade networks

Alexander the Great: 

Successor kingdoms

Greek-style cities across Middle East (centres of international hybrid “Hellenistic” civilization)

Division between Roman empire and Parthian empire: 

Greek culture across region;

Jewish rebellions against Romans (and diaspora)

Christianity:

Origins in Judaea

Spread in Roman Empire and Parthian Empire

Rise of Persian civilization

Zoroastrian religion

Manichaeism

Mesopotamian irrigation system (reaches a peak)

South Asia

Urban civilization 

Trade networks with Middle East (alphabet; iron tools)

Kingdoms and republics

Buddhism and Jainism

Mauryan empire

Alexander the Great

Rise of the Maurya

Asoka

Decline of the Maurya

Spread of Aryan civilization to central India

Gandhara India

Indo-Greek kingdoms

Scythians from central Asia

Gandhara culture

Kushana empire from central Asia,

Buddhism (Mahayana Buddhism; spread of Buddhism in central Asia and to east Asia)

South India

Satavahana kingdom

Trade across Indian Ocean

Spread of civilization to the south of India

Cave temples

Development of the south (economic expansion)

Gupta Empire

Rise of Gupta

Vataka kingdom

Advances in science, art and literature

Mathematics (decimal system and concept of zero)

Huns

East Asia

Separate states

Zhou weakness

Economic expansion (and social change)

Confucius

Unification

Qin

Han

Confucianism as state ideology

Imperial administration

Chinese power and influence (and Silk Road)

Break-down of unity

Neighbours

Nomad confederacy on steppes

Iron Age in Korea and Japan

Period of disunity and invasion

Buddhism in China

Confucianism and Buddhism in Korea and Japan

 

3. Follow-up

Following-up coverage:

Europe:

Which is/are the key area(s) from which civilization spreads out from? – Greece, Italy (Etruscans, Rome)

Key features: are there any features that give civilization in the region a special character? – city-states, republics, democracy; maritime trade; philosophy; rise of Christianity

Influences from other regions: did developments in your region owe anything to other regions? – Iron Age; alphabet, religion – Mithraism, Manichaeism, Christianity

Geographical location and environment: how might these have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this)? – maritime environment of Mediterranean region, not river valley

Developments in government and politics, society and economics – city-states, republics, democracy, empire

Developments in culture, religion and ideas – Greek thought; Mithraism, Manachaeism, Christianity

Developments in technology – Iron Age, alphabet

Key individuals: how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? Philosophers – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; conquerors and statesmen – Alexander the Great; Augustus

Middle East:

Key features: are there any features that give civilization in the region a special character?

Influences from other regions: did developments in your region owe anything to other regions? – Greek-based Hellenistic civilization

Geographical location and environment: how might these have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this)? – Mesopotamia the breadbasket of the region – river valley

Developments in government and politics, society and economics – empires; Aramaic; Greek cities; irrigation system

Developments in culture: art, religion and ideas – revival of Zoroastrianism; new religions – Christianity, Manichaeism

Developments in technology – irrigation system of Mesopotamia

Key individuals: how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? – Alexander the Great, who spread Greek civilization across the region

South Asia:

Key features: are there any features that give civilization in the region a special character? – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism

Influences from other regions: did developments in your region owe anything to other regions? – Iron tools; Alphabet, coinage, art styles

Geographical location and environment: how might these have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this)? – Ganges river valley

Developments in government and politics, society and economics – kingdoms and republics; empires; expanding trade networks; maritime trade across Indian Ocean 

Developments in culture: art, religion and ideas – Buddhism, Jainism; Mahayana Buddhism; Gandhara culture

Developments in technology – iron tools; mathematics

Key individuals: how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? – Buddha, who founded Buddhism; Asoka, who aided spread Buddhism

East Asia:

Key features: are there any features that give civilization in the region a special character? – Confucianism, unity, Administrative system

Influences from other regions: did developments in your region owe anything to other regions? Iron technology, Buddhism 

Geographical location and environment: how might these have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this)? – river valleys of China – Yellow river and Yangtze – make for Chinese predominance

Developments in government and politics, society and economics – empire; imperial administrative system, appointment and promotion of officials on merit

Developments in religion and ideas – Confucianism; Buddhism

Developments in technology – iron technology from outside; paper

Key individuals: how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? – Confucius, who founded Confucianism; Qin Shi Huang, the conqueror; Gaozu, the statesman

 

4. Class discussion

Below are a series of discussion questions to finish this unit. Choose the ones you would like your students to tackle.

1. Identify developments which encompassed more than one region: where did they originate? How did they spread? What impact did they have?

Missionary – Buddhism, Christianity

Trade – new great trade routes – Silk Road, Indian Ocean, Trans-Saharan

Religion – Hinduism from S Asia to SE Asia; Buddhism from S Asia to E Asia and SE Asia; Christianity from Middle East to Europe, Africa (Ethiopia)

Conquest – Alexander the Great’s – Europe to Middle East and touching S Asia; Roman empire – Europe to Middle East

What travelled fro one region to another? – religions (see above); styles of art and architecture (Greek to NW India – Gandhara culture, Indian to SE Asia)

ii. Which civilizations were based in major rivers, which were not?

On rivers: Middle East (Mesopotamia, Egypt), India (Ganges, Indus), China (Yelleo River, Yangtze); 

Not on rivers: Mediterranean civilizations – Phoenicians, Greece, Etruscans 

Points to be made are (1) civilizations no longer mostly confined to river valleys; and (2) are fluid in their borders, and expand in all sort of ways – trade, colonization, conquest.

iii. How did their civilizations change over time?

New political forms – rise of democracy (Athens in Greece) empires (Mauryan empire, Chinese empire, Roman empire, various Iranian empires); new religions and philosophies (Buddhism, Confucianism, Greek philosophy, Christianity and other religions)

The point to be made is that civilizations are fluid in their characteristics, not set in concrete; in general they become more complex and sophisticated as time goes by, until decline sets in or great shocks (especially barbarian invasion) occur.

iv. Who, in your class’s opinion, were the historical figures of greatest importance? Which of these had an impact beyond their own region of origin?

Conquerors and statesmen: Alexander the Great? Asoka (India)? First Emperor (China)? Gaozu (China)? Augustus (Rome)? Constantine (Rome)?

Thinkers and religious founders: Confucius (China)? Socrates, Plato, Aristotle (Greece)? Israelite prophets (Israel)? Jesus of Nazareth (Israel)?

The point to be made is that individuals make an impact on history in a variety of ways, but that there are patterns – all the great civilizations have produced thinkers and religious founders, as well as conquerors and statesmen.

v. What were the similarities and differences between these regions?

  • writing systems? – alphabetic; pictographic; all were fully literate, with a significant part of the population (but in no case anywhere near the majority) able to read and write
  • political systems? – monarchies, republics, democracies, empires, bureaucracies; this period of world history saw political variety begin to emerge
  • belief systems? – traditional beliefs – polytheism -Greek and Roman, Middle Eastern, and Indian (proto-Hindu) religions; , ancestor reverence and animism – China, Africa; monotheism (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity); religo-philosophical systems – Buddhism, Confucianism: this period saw most of the great belief systems of the world make their appearance; the only major examples which came later were Islam and modern Western secularism

vi. By AD 500, which region had had the greatest influence across the Eastern Hemisphere, and in what ways?

Was it India and S Asia? Buddhism impacting on China, Korea and Japan; development of Mathematics would be foundational to later science and technology

Or the Middle East? Before 500 BC had exported alphabet-based literacy to Europe, including Greece and later Rome, and to South Asia, where Aramaic alphabet became the base for Sanskrit; and Christianity –  foundational to later Western civilization

Or perhaps Europe? – styles of Greek art and architecture to Middle East and South Asia; and Rome, which ruled much of Middle East for centuries. 

vii. Basing your choice on the headline points made for the different regions, come up with the 5 most important episodes between 500 BC and 500 AD in shaping later world history?

These might be….

1. Confucianism – foundational to Chinese culture for two thousand years

2. Buddhism – a religion followed today by billions of people

3. Imperial Chinese civil service – an essential ingredient to the modern state

4. Christianity – foundational to Western civilization

5. Mathematics in India – basic to all later science and technology

But other possibilities are: Greek philosophy (foundational to future Western thought, including science); the Roman Empire (which gave peace to millions); Judaism (without which Christianity, and later Islam, would not have existed).